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23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - September 9, 2018

Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2: 1-5; Mark 7: 31-37

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:


 The 23rd




Do you find yourself almost mute when someone close to you is in crisis, or discouraged? What can we say that will pull them out of the depths of their misery? We try to be a comfort to them just by showing up – being at their side is a sign that they aren’t alone. We do our best to speak words of encouragement, "Everything will turn out okay. Don’t worry." We are well intentioned, but try as we can, our words can’t rescue them from their distress. Our words can’t fulfill what they say – solve the problem, raise the spirits, drive away the pain.

But then there is God, who promises to be with us and not walk out on us in hard times. God, who speaks words of comfort that actually do what they say – console and strengthen. Today we hear Isaiah speak for God to the Israelites, who are in a miserable, Babylonian exile. They are a defeated and a shamed people. Nothing could be more impossible. Forget about returning to the promised land; forget about rebuilding the torn-down Jerusalem; forget about ever worshiping again in their revered Temple – it lay in complete ruin

To the people and hopeless exiles Isaiah speaks words of comfort from God. "Be strong, fear not! Here is your God who comes with vindication." The people have nothing to pin their hopes on. Their situation is impossible. They can’t help themselves – but God can. Can they trust the words the prophet speaks to them?

I note the threefold repetition of the promise-packed "then." It is an assurance of God’s noticing their plight and a promise of help. It isn’t our, "There, there, things will be okay." – as well-intentioned as those words are meant to be. No, it’s God speaking words of absolute assurance, "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened… Then will the lame leap like a stag… Then the tongue of the mute will sing." As impossible as it seems, "Then," God promises, "it will happen."

What can we do about the present scandal and mess our church is in these days? Are we back to the times of the corrupt Renaissance church? When and how will God lead us out of this new exile? Certainly there is work for us all to do. But mere human effort will not bring about a healed and renewed church. "Speak, Lord, your servants are listening." Today’s Psalm joins Isaiah’s voice of promise: "The Lord sets captives free. The Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord raises up those who were bowed down." And I want to ask, "When will this happen, O Lord?" I try to put faith in Isaiah’s words: "Then" it will come about. It will happen." How? When? I wonder.

As broken and corrupt as the church was in the Renaissance (circa 1419-1699) God raised up powerful, prophetic and healing people like: Theresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, John of the Cross, Rose of Lima, Pius V, etc. They rekindled and renewed the faith in their times. What will God do for us now in our new exile? Will God speak through our church leaders? Let’ hope, though some have failed us miserably. We will need to be more inclusive and attentive to the laity who bring their gifts, diligence and service to us. But are we open to hear these prophetic witnesses to God’s voice and presence among us?

We have to admit we haven’t been very receptive to our laity in the past. We clerics have frequently treated them as second-class members. While we might have accepted their help, we have not always listened to God speaking to us through them. We need to hear and receive the gifts the laity have to give us throughout the institutional structures of our church. If we are receptive, Isaiah’s promise to the exiles will once again be fulfilled among us. "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared. Then will the lame leap like a stag, Then the tongue of the mute will sing." Today, from our current exile, we call on God to fulfill those promises.

In Jesus’ healing of the deaf man, Mark is clearly linking his ministry to Isaiah’s prophecy. The messianic mission Isaiah foretold is fulfilled in Jesus. He enables the deaf to hear, the blind to see and the lame to walk – just as Isaiah promised. In Jesus the hopes of those in exile have been fulfilled. God has done what humans couldn’t. The "then moment" is no longer a future hope to be longed for. It is a present reality.

A friend, whose hearing has deteriorated these past years, has just gotten a hearing aid. It’s one of those high tech ones and is almost invisible when he wears it. He claims it’s like a miracle. Now he can hear the soft voice of his three-year-old granddaughter; his wife when she speaks to him from the next room and, to his family’s relief, he doesn’t have to have the volume of the TV blaring. Suppose he were completely deaf, like the man in the gospel? How could my friend start and build new relationships? How difficult it would be to deepen those he already has.

The first words the deaf man in the gospel would have heard were those Jesus spoke, "Ephphatha – Be opened!" After that miracle the man not only hears, he speaks plainly. Jesus was traveling in Gentile territory, so the deaf man probably was a Gentile. Religious folk would have considered him outside the pale. When Jesus was in his own territory he met opposition from the Pharisees and the scribes. You would have thought these religious leaders, with their knowledge of the prophets, would have recognized Jesus’ anointed mission. But, though they had physical hearing and sight, they were deaf and blind to Jesus.

That is a serious message for us religious folk. While the religious people were closed to Jesus, those in need were not. Their helplessness left them open to his love and healing touch. The disabled and outcasts are healed and the outsiders welcomed by him.

In the church’s baptismal liturgy the presider touches the ears and mouth of the child with his thumb and prays that the Lord will "...soon touch your ears to receive his word and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God, the Father." That moment begins our journey of listening to God’s word and putting it into practice throughout our lives. Like the deaf man healed by Jesus, our ears are opened and we speak plainly, by words and deeds, what we have heard in God’s word.

We pray for a mind and heart opened to Jesus today as he speaks to us in his word and through those around us, especially the neediest and most vulnerable. Have we heard him in their need? If not, we ask Jesus to do for us what he did for the deaf man – touch our ears and speak his "Ephphatha." Then, like the man, we too will

speak plainly and declare God’s love for all – especially the least and the outsider.


Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:



I need

only to stand

wherever I am

to be blessed.

Mary Oliver


Thus says the Lord: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!

Isaiah 35: 4

Isaiah presents a reassuring vision of God’s healing and restorative powers and it is all done nonviolently. Of course, I am talking about the God of Love. How could God act lovingly in any way but a nonviolent way? As we see in the New Testament, nonviolence is the way of Jesus and, for the first three hundred years of Christianity, nonviolence was also the rule. Now, with 2000 plus years of hindsight, nonviolence is being reclaimed by many Christians.

As Pope Francis writes his Message on the Fiftieth World Day of Peace 2017, "Violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all. . . To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence."

Nonviolence entails actions to gain objectives without the use of violence, which is overwhelmingly rejected in all instances. To be a nonviolent person, takes a lot of work in this violent world of ours. We need to recall frequently, "Be strong, fear not!" This coming September 15-23 is Campaign Nonviolence NC Week. Centered around the U.N. International Day of Peace (9/21), this week is part of the national Campaign Nonviolence grassroots movement with over 2,000 actions across the United States during this time period. Locally, Mayor Nancy McFarlane has made an official proclamation promoting this week. This year, CNV NC will have three major events and YOU ARE INVITED TO ATTEND:

Learn: "Speak No Evil: Creating the U.S. Constitution" on Constitution Day, September 17, 7-9PM, Community United Church of Christ, 814 Dixie Trail, Raleigh

Act: "Happiness is Homemade Forum: Affordable Housing Promotes Nonviolent Living", September 18, 7-9PM, Highland United Methodist Church, 1901 Ridge Rd., Raleigh

Pray: "Toward Wholeness: Prayer Vigil for Nonviolence", September 20, 7-9PM, Sacred Heart Church, 200 Hillsborough St., Raleigh

Fear not, follow Jesus in his nonviolent way.

---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC


Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

Jesus put his finger into the man’s ears

and, spitting, touched his tongue,

and immediately the man’s ears were opened

and he spoke plainly


Baptism begins our journey. Like the deaf man healed by Jesus, our ears are opened to the word of God and we can speak plainly, by words and deeds, what we have heard God say to us.

So we ask ourselves:

  • What opportunities am I taking to hear God’s word?
  • What parts of my life need to be reshaped by what I am hearing?


"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Carlette Parker #0311386 (On death row since 4/1/99)
  • Blanche Moore #0288088 (11/16/90)
  • Christiana Walters #0626944 (7/6/00)

----Central Prison

1034 Bragg Street, 4287 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4287

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:

Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:


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Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.


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